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Potential conditions, in the English speaking world also known under the name “future less vivid” (for a critique of that particular term, see here), are conditional sentences that talk about supposed events, and what the consequences of such events would be, e.g.

Hic ego si finem faciam dicendi, satis fidei et diligentiae meae [⋯] fecisse videar.

Besides the present subjunctive, the perfect subjunctive is also possible. Allen & Greenough claim:

If the conditional act is regarded as completed before that of the apodosis begins, the perfect subjunctive [is substituted in the protasis] for the present subjunctive.

⋯ and offer this example:

Sī ā corōnā relictus sim, nōn queam dīcere. (Brut. 192)
If I should be deserted by the circle of listeners, I should not be able to speak.

However, the German grammars I have all claim there is no difference in meaning between present and perfect subjunctive, and offer examples with the perfect subjunctive in the apodosis as well. See this grammar for Gymnasium students, for example, which offers:

Si magister sero veniat/venerit, discipuli gaudeant/gavisi sint.

So my question is:

  • Is there a difference in meaning, or in nuance, in conditional sentences between perfect and present subjunctive?
  • Is the perfect subjunctive regularly used in the apodosis?
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  • Just noting the previous discussions here and here.
    – cmw
    May 2 at 21:23
  • 2
    The term 'future less vivid' has long bothered me, so I'm grateful for the OSU link that you provided. The very first words of Cicero's Pro Caelio make clear that the term is flawed: si quis, iudices, forte nunc adsit... miretur..., 'If by chance anyone should happen now to be present...he would wonder...' Cicero isn't imagining a future attendee but someone who's right there as he's delivering the speech.
    – cnread
    May 2 at 23:10
  • @cnread Do you know of another term that's used? It's unfortunately also prevalent in Greek grammars with the same issue.
    – cmw
    May 3 at 1:27
  • @cmw. One of the grammars – I don't remember whether it's Allen & Greenough, Gildersleeve & Lodge, or even Bennett – uses 'real' (or maybe 'logical'), 'ideal,' and 'unreal' for the 3 main categories, which seems to me to get to the essential distinction. Otherwise, I think some people refer to them as 'should-would conditions.'
    – cnread
    May 3 at 6:22
  • @Sebastian Koppehel: In North & Hillard p.156, it states: "Conditions in which it is implied that the fulfillment of the condition is improbable but possible. Present (or perfect) subjunctive in both clauses." N & H neglected to provide an example of the perf. subj. in both clauses. I haven't seen one. If you find such, please advise.
    – tony
    May 3 at 12:01

1 Answer 1

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In the Wiki article, "Latin Tenses", under Conditional Sentences: "...the 'ideal' conditional, which supposes an unlikely but theoretically possible future scenario ('if this were to happen'). This kind usually uses the present or perfect subjunctive.".

The (rare) example of a perfect-subjunctive in protasis and apodosis:

"Ciceroni nemo ducentos nunc dederit nummos, nisi fulserit anulus ingens." (Juvenal Satires 7.139) =

"These days (if he were to come back to life) no-one would give Cicero even two-hundred coins, unless first a huge ring glittered (on his finger).".

If "dederit" had been given as present-subjunctive, "det", it would have been translated similarly, "would give", a present-cum-future thing.

The difference between present & perfect-subjunctives appears to come in the apodosis. The present:

"hanc viam si asperam esse negem, mentiar." (Cicero de Div. 2.45) =

"If I were to deny that this road is a rough one, I would be lying."

The indefinite, "would be lying". With the perfect-subjunctive, there is no scope for doubt, "fulserit" = "it glittered".

It's taken five-years, since I first saw the mention in North & Hillard, to find a perfect-subjunctive in both clauses. This indicates the rarity; N & H did not provide an example of this.

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  • 2
    Sebastian's question is difficult to answer comprehensively, so your answer is already appreciated. It gives me food for thought, even though as a result I disagree. Namely, replacing dederit with det might not change the English translation, but it results in a different meaning in Latin. While Pr.Subj. extends from the moment of speaking into the indefinite future (as you say), the Perf.Subj. extends from the past to the moment of speaking, by which point the action must be completed. Therefore det cannot refer to the historical Cicero who can no longer receive any money Jun 13 at 15:44
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    @Unbrutal_Russian the Cicero example is quite strange. On the surface it is only about the conditions under which someone would give Cicero money in the present day and age. But it could not possibly be in the indicative, because Cicero died long ago. So it feels like there is an unwritten protasis si adhuc vixerit or something like that. But whether the pr. subj. would also be allowable then, is unclear to me. Jun 15 at 18:00
  • @Sebastian Koppehel: Is the ex. from "Gymnasium" attested?
    – tony
    Jun 20 at 12:17
  • @Unbrutal_Russian: Given those conditions it only makes grammatical sense if Seb's unwritten protasis is included: "si adhuc vixerit" = "if he had lived up to that point" (perfect subjunctive); followed by, "no-one would have given" (perfect subjunctive, "dederit"). Confusing then is "fulserit": the ring glitters independently of any other circumstances; neither beginning nor ending relative to something else. I found a better translation: "...unless first a huge ring would have glittered"; so the placing of the ring on the finger ("first") is significant, not the glittering? Do you agree?
    – tony
    Jun 20 at 12:39
  • @Sebastian Koppehel: The perfect subjunctive, in a main clause, used to describe a future potential result: "si nunc me suspendam, meis inimicis voluptatem creaverim." (Plautus, Casina 424) = "If I were to hang myself now, I would have given pleasure to my enemies.". The perfect subjunctive, "suspenderim", could have been used instead giving, "if I would have hanged myself". Similarly, Brut. 192: perf. subj., "quierim", instead of present subj., "queam" giving, "I wouldn't have been able". Thus, two examples of the perf. subj. in both clauses. Do you agree?
    – tony
    Jun 20 at 13:42

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